Success Story Margaret DonnellyRecently, I have been involved in conversations with early-stage startups that are formulating their marketing strategies and messages. During all these discussions, branding has been a topic of debate—and angst.

What should I name my company? My product? Should my product name be my company name? How do I go about figuring out the right name for my company/brand? How do I represent that brand in a logo? What else should I consider? While I can’t answer all these questions in a simple blog post, here are some things to consider—and a couple of experiences—to help you navigate these murky waters.

1. Start with ONE brand.

I have seen many companies (including my own) that try to start with a company name AND a separate product name with the thought that there would be a ‘line’ of products. Bzzzzz! Wrong answer! Will you get past your FIRST product? Maybe. Hopefully. Do you have the bandwidth and resources to build TWO brands? Nope. So pick one brand for your product and company.

I have been helping some entrepreneurs who are facing this dilemma, and from my own experiences (my last startup had company name AlignRevenue and product name AlignMeeting until we rebranded the company), startups should focus on creating a single brand. Building equity for one brand is hard enough; imagine having to double those resources—or worse yet, create your own brand confusion—with separate product and company brands. Unless you have a product line from the get-go, make it easy on yourself and focus on building awareness for your product and company at the same time.

2. Make your brand name easy to say, spell and remember. Don’t forget to put some emotion behind it.

Some questions to ask:

  • Does your brand name have meaning?
  • Is that meaning self-evident or easily explainable?
  • Is it easy to pronounce?
  • Will people be able to spell it?
  • Is it easy to type—especially on a mobile device?

One item that is often overlooked is the emotional connection to a brand. When picking a name, also think of a tag line or a one-sentence pitch that cements the name with your purpose. I particularly like an idea from an article on ideas.ted.com entitled Do startup names matter by Max Garrone. Garrone stated, “When I think about names, I know memories are formed from data plus emotion. Emotion makes the data sticky.” It’s not just the name but also the idea behind the name that makes it sticky. Garrone goes on to advise that pairing that name with a memorable, one-line pitch (or tag line) makes the brand (and company) more memorable; it cements that emotion.

3. Take some time to research and refine your brand.

I love this blog post, The Quick and Dirty Guide to Building Your Startup Brand, by Alex Chung, Co-Founder of Launch Academy. In developing the brand, Alex first starts with your life story as the genesis of your brand. He starts with who you are—ah, yes, it’s that emotional connection again—in helping you define your brand. It may seem counterintuitive—you might want to start with what you do—but it’s a great exercise to identify what resonates with you. Don’t worry; Alex does get into the meat of the matter (creating your brand narrative) as the final step. His process is just one way to develop brand ideas, but it’s a great alternative approach to word mashups and domain searches. Speaking of which…

4. Make sure you can secure all necessary brand assets.

It may sound basic, but you must be able to secure your legal business/brand name, domain and social media assets before you finalize that brand. Here are some resources that may help.

  • Brand Name. Check your brand with the US Patent & Trademark Office and make sure it isn’t already trademarked. You also might want to see if your brand is available outside the US using a tool like the WIPO Global Brand Database.
  • Domain Name. Sometimes, this might need to come first. Coming up with a brand name might not be that hard, but one that has an associated, available domain? That’s tougher. I use Domainr and Suso’s safe domain checker to keep my searches private and lessen the chance that someone will snatch (and hold hostage) my domain idea. If you are having a hard time finding a domain based upon a brand idea, try LeanDomainSearch and Wordoid. These sites enable you to find domains based upon words, partial words, etc.
  • Social Media Names. You also need to check and see if your brand has associated social media properties available. Namechk searches a variety of domains AND social media user names. (Caveat: I don’t know if they sell search data). If you think it’s easy to wrestle a Twitter handle or Facebook name from a non-trademarked owner, think again. When my company, JitterGram, was pivoting its product and brand to JitterJam, it took five months of begging to get Twitter to take the abandoned/inactive JitterJam handle from a 14-year-old kid even though we had a registered trademark. In the end, my constant begging—and my inclusion of an exceptionally cute video of Jerry the Dachshund in my pitiful pleading—put me over the edge with the Twitter customer service rep. Had we not been granted the username, we would not have owned the username for our brand.

5. Test your brand ideas before you make a final decision.

If you’ve jumped over all these hurdles and come up with one (or more, hopefully) brand names, test the names with friends, family, industry insiders, your neighbor, etc. Use both the brand name and your tag line/one line value proposition and ask for an honest opinion. Test both print and verbal branding to see if people get it, can spell it, remember it, and like it. Try to go outside of your normal circles; the feedback and response will be valuable to determine whether the brand resonates and captivates!

There’s so much more to a brand than a name, but a brand name is the cornerstone of your business’ identity. Take the time to make it.